This is the ninth in a series on how to get by as a vegan or vegetarian in rural Korea. ― Ed.
What food series would be complete without the staple carb and a non-tofu protein source? Today we discuss rice and beans.
Brown rice is “hyeon mi” and white rice just “ssal” or “baek mi.” Should you want black rice to simulate a “wild grain” style that’s “heuk mi” and easily found.
I like to blend brown and white rice. Let the brown rice sit 1-2 hours in water to soften, then drain. Add equal parts white rice, wash thoroughly, then cook in a regular rice steamer.
What if you’re making a roll or wrap (like “yubu chobap,” the tofu wrap or kim bap)? The quick and dirty way is simply to add a little extra water and overcook a bit, making the rice stickier. You can even use all brown rice if you add a tremendous amount of water and cook the rice about twice as long as normal.
I can hear the sushi chef in San Diego who taught me cringing. Someone please tell her I am sorry.
There are lots of beans available in Korea. The typical Korean way to use them is to throw a few in the rice. If you’re doing this, soak the beans overnight or have a dentist handy.
The typical “pat” red bean that goes in everything is surprisingly small, not nearly as big as kidney beans. Supposedly you could cook it alone and eat it. When I try it, I’ll let you know.
There is one bean that stands out as highly versatile, but it is not cheap. The black bean used in “kongjaban” (the side dish of sweet and salty, sticky beans) costs about 5,000 won for a couple of handfuls, and larger bags can easily be 20,000 won or more. But don’t despair. It absorbs so much water when cooking that you’ll be pleased with the amount of cooked product you wind up with.
One benefit to this bean is it’s pretty similar to what you can get in North America. Soak it overnight, boil it like you’re trying to kill it (more than an hour is fine), and you have something that can passably go in burritos, or be the beginning of a baked bean side.
But here are some more Korean ways to use it.
Like all beans, you can add it to the rice. Soak overnight, add to the rice before cooking, and you’ll get a nice bluish color without the overpowering hue that black rice gives you.
You can also make the side I just mentioned ― kongjaban.
To do that, take about a cup of beans and soak them. Overnight is fine, but some recommend only five or six hours. If you want some crunch, you’re going to want them to soak less. If you prefer softer, chewier beans you can let them soak while you sleep.
Now boil the beans for about one hour. If you use fresh water (not the soaking water) and skim the stuff off the surface, there are fewer digestive side effects to fear. As they near completion you can let the water boil off until there’s just a bit of it going up the sides of the pot. Add four tablespoons soy sauce, four tablespoons “mul yeot“ (corn starch), and a teaspoon of sesame oil.
Boil that mix down, stirring, until the liquid is almost ― but not all ― gone. Add 4 tablespoons brown sugar and a tablespoon or two of sesame seeds. Stir and let the liquid dissolve. If you were worried about the beans being too soft, don’t be: it’s the caramelization of the brown sugar that usually gives the texture.
This is an easy recipe to customize to taste by changing levels of the soy, sesame, or sugar. Some even leave out the corn starch, but I think it helps harden things up a bit.
By Darren Bean!
Darren Bean! is a former prosecutor and lecturer in the department of Criminology at Chosun University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The exclamation mark is part of his legal name. ― Ed.